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UK begins drawing optoelectronic plan

The UK government is investing £1 million ($1.55 million) in a series of optoelectronic feasibility studies that it says will lead to “pan-European ultra-fast broadband”.

Each of the planning projects will cost between £30,000 and £100,000, and feature significant contributions from III-V stalwarts Oclaro – formed by the merger of Avanex and Bookham – and IQE.

Mike Biddle, lead technologist at the selfdescribed “business-led public body” the Technology Strategy Board, says that the money should identify networking issues that the UK can help solve.

“Our intention in providing this funding is to help British companies to establish future European collaborations that will participate in larger EU funding initiatives,” he commented.

Of the 13 studies in the ultra-fast broadband project, which will go on for up to six months, Oclaro features in six. This includes examining how to increase the deployment of its InP tunable lasers to enable 10 Gbit/s connections at the lowest possible cost.

The San Jose, CA, headquartered optoelectronic component and subsystem manufacturer is also leading an effort looking at how 10 Gbit/s access networks will be established across Europe.

The roadmapping effort also involves leading institutions, including network operator BT, system manufacturer Ericsson and the University of Cambridge. Together the partners will find the best way to maximize opportunities for UK institutions in the next stage of the Photonics21 European technology platform.

A third Oclaro study will look at integrating arrayed waveguide gratings with the tunable lasers produced at its Caswell InP fab, which helps it qualify for UK funding. It will partner with Livingston, Scotland, based component maker Gemfire and the University of Essex in this work.

Epiwafer producer IQE is involved in two studies, and its chip manufacturing foundry partner Compound Semiconductor Technologies (CST) Global is involved with three. The two will work together on the feasibility of producing uncooled AlInGaAs laser diodes at low cost.

“We are looking to solve the paradox of producing diode sources with telecoms grade quality, with consumer grade pricing,” said IQE’s project leader Wyn Meredith.

IQE and CST Global are also looking at manufacturing diode lasers with narrower linewidths and better side-mode suppression ratios than the best existing distributed feedback lasers.

Together with Glasgow University, CST Global is also evaluating the possibility of producing optoelectronic integrated circuits that monolithically integrate a resonant tunnelling diode with a laser diode. This could produce a single-chip optical-wireless interface for use in indoor base-stations such as femtocells or picocells.

CST Global is also set to upgrade its manufacturing equipment thanks to new financing. Backed with £2.15 million from a combination of the private equity group European Digital Partners (EDP) and Scottish Enterprise’s co-investment fund, the company will invest the cash in equipment such as new stepper lithography kit.

CST chief executive Neil Martin told Compound Semiconductor that this would enable it to make more complex devices, and offer improved quality and service to customers.

Martin added that CST had benefited from growing demand for 1310 and 1550 nm lasers in recent months, thanks to increased deployment of fiber-optic links to provide broadband communication services.

As well as the new equity to bolster its financial position, CST has restructured £1.85 million of long-term debt. The investment follows the recent award of a collaborative £1 million development contract to provide devices for next-generation local broadband access, research that will be supported by the new funding.

“We’ve had an incredibly successful few quarters of trading and this additional funding will enable us to expand our capabilities and enhance our service offering,” Martin commented. “There is no doubt that this investment will allow us to strengthen our position of being a volume supplier of complex quality products.”

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